The second part of my life with snakes.
There is a superstition among orthodox Indians that if you have a Garuda-rekhe in your hand, some mark of the eagle from mythology that ordinary mortals are not supposed to be able to recognise, you can spot snakes very easily. It has to do with the traditional rivalry between snakes and eagles. Ma is always jokingly talking about how she must have this mark on her hand for she can spot a snake when no one can. She has had some interesting times. Once she was cooking in the kitchen when a rat snake slithered down the slab almost garlanding her. Then another time, on her birthday, she was about to fling aside a plastic cover, when it moved and she realised that it was in fact a poisonous snake.
She has been the first to spot snakes at home and outside. Thankfully, none of the encounters have been fatal. Also, again thankfully, she has not been spotting snakes so often off late.
Last year, about the same time of the year, two snakes came inside the house. Oh, we thought. Nothing unusual, we believed and hit the roof a couple of times to chase them away. But fifteen minutes later, there they were again. It turned out that there had chosen the house for their romantic sojourn. A pattern was set for the next three days. The snakes would come in, we would shoo them away and they would come in again. Ma had problems cooking and the television, already not used much in our house, was totally out of bounds. But in a way, we all had a great time.
There are a few families of workers who live below our house in a line of houses earlier meant for estate workers. When snakes come in and dad is out, we call them to help chase them out. Shailaja, my maid (I have to write a whole post about her some day), is always a very enthusiastic helper. On the one hand, she would be the first one to stand and examine the snake while on the other hand, in typical fashion, she would grumble about how it was a sin to watch snakes mate. According to her, we had to cover the snakes with a white cloth! Dont ask me why!
Anyways, for those three days, we all saw snakes in their entirety, up close and personal, just like the high zoom lens of a camera from Animal Planet. Half the time, we could see the underbelly of the snakes, white, bare and quite disgusting. One window of my room opens up to the roof where the bigger of the two snakes would lie, basking in the hot sunshine, waiting for its mate. That image is imprinted in my mind even to this day. The snake was glittering, with the rays bouncing off its smooth body and having not a care for the half a dozen people trying to drive it away, it looked left, then to the other side, and slowly moved away with grace.
This went on for two days by which we were back to watching the television, cooking and walking without our heads raised up to see whether they were there. Then another pair comes in! Finally, with much pain, dad tied a cloth around a long stick, lit it and touched the sensitive underbelly of the big snake with the fire. It fled, took its mate with it, and did not come back, until this year that is.
I was home the weekend they started coming in again. Like last year, it was an experience, but not as tedious. The snakes played swing in the kitchen, slipped into the room where we store firewood and almost broke a few tiles on the roof but it was better. We had learnt to live with them, it was for just a few days anyway.
Another window in my room looks out at this ledge, the wall of which has, over the years, been home to snakes of various lengths, all harmless though. For one whole day, I sat on my bed, looking out at one really long snake, coming out for breakfast, crawling away for a walk, climbing the wall outside my room, going home, coming out for lunch, going in for a siesta and desperately missing its companion (At least it looked that way to me, the way it was being so restless). I noticed its glassy eyes, its slit tongue, the hissing call, the intricate way in which it moved in and out of its hole, the way its tail followed its body around, the way its body shone... I "looked" at snakes.
My friends think I am crazy to be so taken in by the idea of having snakes at home. But that was the way I grew up. Every summer our attic is home to at least two snakes. Every summer, I stay away from scrounging the attic for hidden treasures (It holds many. I once found a beautiful pair of silver earrings.)
Living like this is fun, believe me. Snakes are not dangerous reptiles out to get your blood. They are mostly harmless creations of that same God who created you, asking humankind to give them a small place on Earth to mate, and to live.